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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Kilmer: “Downey’s a great Kisser”


echoes of Chandler, Marlowe

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shane Black

(BBC Prize Review)

Pulp Fiction? Give me a break. This off the wall, can’t be pigeon-holed, literate little gem has far more style, wit, laughs and ironic self-mockery in its little finger (which the dog eats by the way). Lets hear it for Mary Gail Artz and Barbara Cohen – casting Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jnr was high risk and inspired. Kilmer’s reported ego appears to have mellowed into a nice line in self-mockery. And Robert Downey Jnr is developing an engaging screen persona of self-deprecating, rumpled, world-worn vulnerability that avoids the distraction of his off-screen troubles by quietly playing on them within his characters.

Not to dismiss Tarantino, but Shane Black’s homage here, especially to Raymond Chandler and classic American film noir has a truth and warmth that goes deeper than pastiche. Chandler was a genre writer of unique style and class. The greatest compliment to KKBB is that it convincingly recreates that style by bouncing its snappy, sparky dialogue off the wall of contemporary attitudes. And its changes of pace and style keep our head well in the game. It’s great fun.

Re-inventing the classic noir narrator who drove the plot along by filling in the audience quickly and efficiently by talking at them; Black let’s Downey’s Harry Lockhart talk to us as well. Even addressing us directly as ‘dear audience’ using the device to share his thoughts and feelings with us at what is happening to him on screen. This is giving a cinematic device a literary spin. Which is probably full-circle, as I guess the movie narrator has literary genes.

Told in chapters, each with the title of a Chandler Novel, KKBB rollercoasters you through a plot that never quite gives up the ghost but almost commits suicide several times, only to be snatched back with a convincing slice of realism that hauls you back on board. It even has its own 21st century ‘it’ girl in Michelle Monaghan who is a dead ringer for Lauren Bacall in looks but most definitely a modern gal. Monaghan’s ‘Harmony’ is a wickedly, sexy, sassy, c’mon fella..keep up if you want to play, kind of girl. You ain’t on one foot, you ain’t in the game.

Val Kilmer’s Gay Perry spins irony out of stereotypes and for my money should be as much fun for gays as straights. Recently asked, no doubt for the umpteenth time about the screen kiss he shares with Downey, Kilmer replied with a comment that could have come straight from the movie – “It could have been a problem…but then he (Downey) is a great kisser, it was so tender, and the way the light caught his hair as he leaned his head back….it was no problem at all”. Delicious. The movie carried beyond the frame.

I won’t even try the plot. Just like the Big Sleep – the movie and the book – no one, including the writer, seem to know where its going but somehow its denouement seems to make sense though neither he, nor we, are quite sure how we got there. Black writes this like the real Chandler on a bender with Downey’s Harry Lockhart pretty much Philip Marlowe on magic mushrooms.

This one rocks. You’ll laugh out loud with a kind of conspiratorial glee that is pretty rare in the cinema nowadays. The language and the humour are scabrous but full of wit and style. Don’t miss the opening – it beautifully sets the tone for a great night out at the movies.

(Zettel 2005)

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